Revolutions and persecutions can wreak havoc on monastic communities.
And yet in spite of everything new life often emerges from these tragedies. Without the French Revolution the abbey and congregation of Solesmes would not have come into being. And without the anti-religious legislation in France in 1901 Quarr Abbey as we know it today would never have been built.
Prosper Louis Guéranger was born in 1805 in Sablé in France. As a young secular priest he often visited the remains of the former Maurist priory of Solesmes which had not survived the turmoil of the Revolution. His desire to restore monastic life there began to be realised in 1833 when he and five companions resumed the regular Benedictine observance. In 1837 the approval of Pope Gregory XVI was received, Dom Guéranger pronounced his Benedictine vows and was appointed first abbot of Solesmes of the Congregation of France. His original intention had been to restore the Maurist Congregation which had been dissolved in 1818, but the Holy See felt a new beginning was needed. However for the constitutions and customaries Dom Guéranger took over much of the Maurist heritage.
Many trials, both ecclesiastical and political, beset the new foundation, but Dom Guéranger was a man of deep Christian hope and tenacity. One reason for the difficulties encountered was his opposition to the Gallicanism common in the French church. He was a fervent believer in union with the church centred on the successor of St Peter, the Vicar of Christ. This meant celebrating the sacred liturgy within that unity with the Church of Rome. In the several volumes of his great work “The Liturgical Year”, the abbot of Solesmes opened up the riches of liturgical tradition. His conviction was that Christian piety should be fed and nourished primarily from Holy Scripture and the sacred liturgy. In this he is rightly regarded as a forerunner of what became known as the modern liturgical movement.
It would be mistaken however to think that the monk’s life was merely one of performing elaborate liturgical ceremonies.In monastic tradition this also involved the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture and the writings of the great spiritual fathers; it also entailed a serious commitment to work as a vital part of monastic family life.
The influence of Dom Guéranger extended well beyond France and the Solesmes congregation. The same might also be said of the third abbot of Solesmes, Dom Paul Delatte, abbot from 1890 to 1920. His Commentary on the Rule of St Benedict (1913) found its way into the noviciates of many different Benedictine houses. It was he who had to lead his community into exile in the Isle of Wight in 1901, first at Appuldurcombe, then in 1908 to Quarr.